Mon | Dec 4, 2023

When gunshots ring out at prayer ... August Town children under stress from violence

Published:Friday | July 17, 2020 | 12:00 AMJudana Murphy/Gleaner Writer
Michelle Percy explains the struggles she faces as a parent trying to make sure her children get a good education in an inner-city community that is plague by gang violence.
Prudence Allen speaks about the struggles she faces on a daily basis as a teacher of a school in an inner-city community that is plague by gang violence.
Jennifer Solomon, principal of August Town Primary speaking about the struggles she faces as the principal.

The ongoing violence in the community of August Town has often interrupted the education of students, and with the COVID-19 pandemic, that plight has only worsened.

Principal of August Town Primary School Jennifer Solomon said teachers and students were catapulted into online learning.

“It was a bit challenging because we had persons with faulty devices, lack of devices and poor connectivity, but we tried our utmost best to navigate by providing worksheets for those who were not in the classes,” she explained.

Though she has only been principal for three months, Solomon, a former vice-principal at Mona Heights Primary, said she is well aware of the impact of violence on the education of students, this as a number of them live in August Town.

“When there is a flare-up of violence, we realise that the students would come to school much later … and also there are times when students would be really traumatised because family members were shot, and all of that,” Solomon said.

Michelle Percy has three children who reside in the community, one of whom attends the aforementioned school.

She said once there is an incident of gun violence, the schoolday is forced to an abrupt end.

Acknowledging how this impacts her daughters, she asks relatives to tutor the,m and she takes them to school daily and reassures them that they will be safe.

“If it wasn’t for the family, overall, to support and comfort them, it would be harder for them to cope. When the gunshots and suh firing, dem traumatise. Even at school, the teachers are also traumatised because dem haffi dive under desk,” Percy explained, adding that her 12-year-old daughter will be heading to Mona High School next term.

Prudence Allen and Everton Grant have been teachers at the institution for a combined 38 years.

Frightened by violence

“It has impacted them greatly, because though they live in the community, they are still frightened by the violence,” said Allen, who has made the volatile community her home.

She said the students have learnt to strive against the odds and this is evident in their placement at traditional high schools.

“Our guidance counsellor has other persons from the Ministry of Education coming in to talk to the teachers and the students. Apart from our hurricane drill, as well as our earthquake drill, we have a violence drill,” the senior teacher shared.

Allen explained that violence has also caused the school’s population to dip from more than 500 students in previous years to approximately 230.

Since the start of the year, there have been seven murders and 14 shootings, and on July 8, a zone of special operations was declared in the St Andrew community.

“With the involvement of the police officers and the JDF [Jamaica Defence Force], we are all happy. We can all breathe a sigh of relief, even for a while,” she said.

Grant, a teacher of 17 years at the school, said the incidents of violence he has experienced over the years are countless.

He recalled a Monday-morning devotion, two years ago, when gunshots were heard in the midst of prayer.

Students and staff were sent scampering for cover and in those instances, he said teachers became nurses and comforters.

Grant explained that students have been deprived of a sports day and involvement in extracurricular activities because of the intensity of the situation.

“These students, although they are extremely talented, are under severe stress. We see it in how they act and sometimes when shots are being fired, how they react. If this violence could stop, August Town would be an ideal place for bringing out bright students.”